Maryland looked more like a piñata than a dangerous rival through most of Saturday’s game, offering the fifth-largest crowd in Byrd Stadium history a cringe-worthy rerun of previous blowout losses against West Virginia.
The Terrapins rallied to generate some unexpected late-game suspense, cutting a 24-point third-quarter deficit to three, but the end result was familiar: a sixth consecutive loss to one of their fiercest rivals. The 18th-ranked Mountaineers continued their recent dominance over Maryland with a 37-31 victory before an announced crowd of 53,627.
The fourth-quarter drama briefly stirred memories of Maryland’s epic rally from a 31-0 deficit to beat defending national champion Miami in 1984. But in an entertaining game in which the teams racked up 957 yards of total offense, the Terrapins (1-1) proved too turnover-prone against a program they have not beaten since many current Terrapins were in middle school seven years ago.
The Mountaineers won their seventh game in eight tries against a Randy Edsall-coached team. Edsall had amassed a 1-6 record against West Virginia during his 12-year tenure at Connecticut. And Saturday’s postgame news conference brought an uncharacteristic show of emotion from Edsall after he was asked about the resolve his players displayed by turning a rout into a competitive game.
While occasionally poking his finger down at the podium, Edsall said in part: “I don’t expect anyone to quit. I’m going to tell you this: On a Randy Edsall-football coached team, there ain’t ever going to be any quit. If there is somebody who is going to quit, they aren’t going to be on this team. . . . These kids respect the game too much to give anything but their best effort. And I guarantee you that is what you will see out of Maryland football.”
After he completed his response, Edsall abruptly ended the nine-minute news conference and walked off.
Soon after Edsall departed, in walked quarterback Danny O’Brien after perhaps the worst game of his college career. O’Brien, who was knocked out of last season’s West Virginia game after one play, threw three interceptions Saturday, including one in the first quarter that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown. The final interception occurred after Maryland had driven to the West Virginia 35, putting itself in position to score a potential game-winning touchdown with 1 minute 13 seconds to play.
After free safety Eain Smith’s game-sealing interception, O’Brien, who completed 34 of 52 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown, said he became emotional in the locker room and that several teammates — “too many to name,” he said — came to his side.
“This is the worst feeling in the world, and it’s not going to happen again,” O’Brien said. “Next week can’t come fast enough. I have great friends who pulled me up in the locker room. Just because we feel this team can be really good, really great.”
O’Brien directed an offense that was without two of his top three wide receivers because seniors Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree were suspended indefinitely after Tyler was arrested early Thursday morning and charged with second-degree assault.
O’Brien said the receivers were missed but that their absences did not play a large role in defeat, and he said the biggest reasons for the loss were his three interceptions. Edsall said “missing those two receivers didn’t mean a thing.”
Regarding O’Brien’s performance, Edsall applauded O’Brien’s effort, said he made some mistakes and emphasized that last season’s ACC rookie of the year will improve after watching film.
“I love Danny O’Brien,” Edsall said. “I thought maybe he tried to put a little too much on himself, instead of just going out and letting it happen. Once he did that, coming out in the second half, I think you saw a different guy. We tried to get him settled down. Danny is not going to play perfect. I know all of you want him to and I want him to. He’s going to make mistakes at times, too.”
On the critical play that resulted in the third interception, Edsall said, O’Brien could have run the ball. In the season opener against Miami, O’Brien’s lone interception also came on a play on which he had room to run. When asked about Saturday’s critical play, O’Brien said there was some miscommunication about the pass route and that “it’s good after the fact, but I probably should have run.”
The Mountaineers (3-0) overwhelmed Maryland through more than two quarters of play. Three West Virginia players finished with more than 100 yards receiving. Quarterback Geno Smith amassed 388 passing yards on 36 completions, both career highs. Edsall said that his secondary, which was burned on a number of explosive plays by Coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-octane offense, needs to refine technique because its margin for error is small.
But the game’s tenor changed midway through the third quarter. Edsall said the coaching staff made offensive and defensive halftime adjustments, though he declined to elaborate. O’Brien said the offense simply ran the same plays with better execution.
In a span of 10 minutes, running backs Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams scored on runs of 20, 6 and 2 yards, Meggett added a two-point conversion and — voila — the Terrapins sliced their deficit to 34-31 with more than 10 minutes remaining. The crowd, almost all of which remained in the stadium despite the early potential of a rout, roared with renewed optimism.
“The second half,” Holgorsen said, “I thought they outplayed us on all three sides of the ball.”
But the same offense that had engineered seven drives of 60 or more yards against Miami couldn’t put together a game-winning one in the final minutes Saturday.
As Maryland defensive lineman Joe Vellano said: “Everybody started fighting back. We had them at the end. It could have gone either way.”